The World Rugby U20 Championship isn’t the only global gathering of talented youngsters and for the last 10 days, the second-tier competition, the U20 Trophy, has been raging on in Romania.
Unsurprisingly, Fiji and Samoa will meet to decide the final on Sunday in Bucharest, with the winner earning promotion to the Championship tournament in 2019, which will be held in Argentina.
The level of quality across the board falls significantly short of the Championship, which was contested back in June, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t players with bright futures in the game on show.
We have picked out six diamonds in the rough, who will not only be eyeing up successful careers with their nation’s senior sides, but quite possibly club careers that could see them perform in Super Rugby, the Top 14, the Gallagher Premiership or the Guinness PRO14.
Continue reading below…
Patrick Schickerling, Namibia
The tighthead prop is a big slab of meat. Weighing in at 130kg, he has been the spearhead of a Namibian scrum that has been dominant at the Trophy, something which is only made more impressive by the fact that he was packing down as a loosehead this time last year.
In addition to being the fulcrum of the Namibian scrum, Schickerling has also impressed in the loose, proving a powerful presence with ball in hand as he has pinballed his way through would-be tacklers. The scrum may be becoming a less influential factor in the game, but tightheads with the natural size of Schickerling still exert their value on the pitch, as well as in contract negotiations, and there should be teams from both hemispheres interested in this prop.
Iosefatu Mareko, Samoa
A close call, with a more than an honourable mention for Mareko’s partner in the Samoan engine room, Wesley Patu. Similar to Schickerling, Mareko’s natural size has helped him dominate the competition at the Trophy, but that shouldn’t detract from a good all-round skill set and a technical ability that will mean he isn’t a fish out of water when he steps up to the senior level.
In fact, Mareko has already been making an impact at the next level, having represented Samoa A earlier this year in the Pacific Challenge, albeit as a blindside flanker rather than a lock. A member of the Bay of Plenty U19 squad last year and pushing now for further recognition with Samoa, Mareko will be on plenty of teams’ radars.
— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) September 5, 2018
Vilimoni Botitu, Fiji
An inside centre who is unerringly Fijian, Botitu has lit up the Trophy this year with his dazzling runs and comfort with the ball in hand. His long stride sees him easily exploit holes in defences and put distance between himself and tacklers when he moves through the gears.
Given that Botitu was representing Nadi U20s a couple of months ago, it seems as though he remains a relative secret to those outside of Fiji, but if he can replicate this form at the next level, potentially for the Fiji Warriors, or the Fijian Drua side in Australia’s National Rugby Championship, he is going to quickly become coveted by European clubs and southern hemisphere franchises.
— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) September 5, 2018
Brennig Prevost, Canada
A versatile full-back and fly-half, Prevost isn’t the biggest player at the Trophy, but he has shown speed, attacking instincts and a passing game that have set him apart from a Canadian team that has been competitive in their three losses so far.
Canada have a history of players straddling the divide between 7s and XVs and Prevost could be another that ends up taking that route. If he develops physically over the next year or two and that doesn’t detract from the footballer that he currently is, then a promising career solely in XVs could beckon instead, especially with semi-regular opportunities for Canadian players in European leagues.
Manuel Ardao, Uruguay
Ardao is the best player in the Uruguay side and, at times, it looks like he knows that. There is definitely a swagger to his play and he picks and chooses his moments to get involved, something which isn’t necessarily a negative as an openside flanker.
He is extremely efficient with his tackling, often going low and wrapping the legs of his opponents, rather than getting sucked into a physical contest with bigger forwards, whilst his ability as a carrier, particularly his leg drive, often sees him break tackles and rip off big gains down the pitch. Having featured at this tournament last year and represented the Uruguayan 7s team, Ardao is building a decent portfolio for interested teams.
Paul Altier, Hong Kong
There is some x-factor about Altier and he put it on display against Romania on Wednesday, picking up a hat-trick and running the Hong Kong back line with finesse and composure. At just 18 years of age and not set to turn 19 until later this month, Altier may well get another shot at this competition next year if Hong Kong can qualify again, and the prospect of what he could be as a player in 2019 is exciting.
As a runner, he has a wicked step off of his right foot and there is very little loss of speed when he deploys it. At this level it’s devastating, and although he wouldn’t enjoy the same space and pace mismatches at senior level for Hong Kong or in a professional competition, it could still prove quite the weapon for a team willing to invest time into him.
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